Queen, that most chameleon-like or even dare I say it 'mercurial' of bands (damn that pun and the horse it rode in on), was as tough to pin down visually as they were musically, following trends or even creating them as quited their whims. Yet they were markedly image-conscious, and that's an important part of their - or, to be more specific, of Freddie Mercury's - legacy. From groundbreaking early music videos to live performances... and the album covers themselves.
Like the album contents, the album covers are on occasion magnificent but frustratingly erratic. There are some deviations here that do stray from the bounds of good taste - and yet I should add that 'camp' was an important part of this band as well. It's tough to be sure when the tongue is in the cheek and when it isn't: it's tempting to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that whenever it gets cheesy, it's intentionally so.
Queen: Freddie Mercury, arms aloft, holding a mic stand on a stage somewhere in the universe, under the spotlight: from the very get-go, before even anyone had any idea who they were, how could they have such a fully-developed sense of their own ethos and of how to mythologise themselves? A truly beautiful cover and arresting opening salvo.
Queen II:Odd that "Bohemian Rhapsody" is not on this album, since its cover seems to be a still from that songs' iconic video. Again, then - the mythologising is intact. There's a lot of hair on this cover, and some cheesy paper-and-scissors editing. But it's still impressive.
Sheer Heart Attack:And this... isn't. There's no allure here, nothing to clue you into the fact that they're anything other than a terribly generic hard-rock band.
A Night at the Opera: Here's the great leap forward. The title is from a Marx Brothers movie, but otherwise it's all pomp and circumstance, like they just realised that their band name implies regal underpinnings. So a kind of a coat-of-arms. This is one of those albums that you ponder every time you see it in a second-hand bin. It just forces you to.
A Day at the Races:An obvious sequel - not designed as a two-part 'Use Your Illusion'-style project as I had always assumed, this is merely the follow-up: black to the original's white, even though this is 'day' to its 'night'. Diminished returns, though, which describes the music as well.
News of the World:A big sci-fi move - taken from some sci-fi book or something. A huge robot appears to have speared some people with its finger. It has little to do with the band whose music is inside it, but it's still an intriguing image.
Jazz: Something a bit weirder. Queen are starting to lose the plot a bit, I think - musically as well as visually. This is a geometric Spirograph cover-o-nothing, with the band's name five times and a little bicycle rider 18 times. Yes, I counted.
The Game: The four of them, all badass, tough as leather. In front of a drum riser. They're just as rock as you can get, aren't they? Funny they're about to abandon that genre.
Flash Gordon: This soundtrack cover is very yellow. And that's all I can say about it.
Hot Space:Queen go disco, with a decent cover that evokes the era perfectly. Blur ripped it off. But no-one in Blur had an awesome moustache.
The Works:Embarrassed by their disco deviation, Queen go back to being four regular blokes, sitting on the ground in front of their shadows looking very everyman. Aren't they about to dress in drag for their video?
A Kind of Magic:Pretty horrid, though at least you can make no mistake about what decade this album was released in. Blue superhero cartoon characters? Well, why not?
The Miracle: This rather ugly beast is much maligned. But what is really is is a decent idea that didn't quite come off, presenting the four of them as a single crazy-mutated beast. But the eyes disturb, as for some reason does Brian May's shoulder.
Innuendo: A jester juggles the universe while standing in a pile of earths. It's an interesting enough cover, but it's not clear what, if anything, it has to do with Queen. This was the last Queen album released during Freddie Mercury's life.
Made in Heaven: I didn't like this cover until I saw that it wasn't Mercury himself but a statue of him, in Switzerland. The conceit is pretty tacky as it's misty-eyed, but for some reason I bite my tongue and allow myself to be impressed by it. This posthumous album features Mercury's ghost; so, then, does its cover.
This is not really all there is: there have been any number of compilations since then (including the one that puts Queen hits in alphabetical order) and an unfortunately large number of releases featuring the three living ones that use the name Queen. But that's all just packaging. In reality, when Freddie Mercury died, so did Queen.